Friday, October 4, 2013


Sisters : Richard and Linda Thompson

Buy it!

Phew, I was worried I wouldn't get back on-line in time for this submission, the instantaneous thought that came to me, on reading about the theme from afar. Few can now claim to be unaware of the name Richard Thompson, the eternal critics favourite undiscovered artist, finally, finally seeming to get the attention due him, even if he is still hardly household. Indeed, he remains very much a marmite artist, to use the current british vernacular, marmite being a yeast based spread that advertises itself on the basis that you can only either love or hate it, with no middle ground. (I love it!) Elderly readers will remember him as the precocious guitar-slinger in Fairport Convention, doe-eyed and shaggy, effortlessly tossing off skewed and twisted lines, seeming to offer no links to the then received canon of blues and rock, with echoes of a deep folk mysticism, and hints of an eastern symbolism later more widely embraced. Indeed Fairport probably invented the european school of folk-rock, with their epochal album, Liege and Lief, from where this clip comes.
Following on from his exit from FP and an astoundingly unsuccessful solo LP, he teamed up with his then wife, Linda, herself already a well respected singer on the session circuit, producing 5 or so LPs, even managing a minor hit with this. During this period the couple embraced islam, even giving up the music business for a while, living on a sufi commune. The song I lead this piece with stems from this later period, which Thompson himself seems to think little of himself, it remaining resolutely unavailable on CD, re-mixed and added to or otherwise.(My purchase link comes from a later compilation of his oevre.)
They famously split up around their final LP, then experiencing an enormously vitriolic tour together to promote it.
Since then Richard has maintained a low profile permanent presence in the best of lists, whether as guitarist, songwriter or, less often, singer. Indeed, it his voice that tends to keep him away from any real chance of crossover, appealing mainly to bearded men of a certain age, perhaps explaining his place in the heart of so many music writers. Linda sort of fell by the wayside, having become prone to dysphonia, making singing live impossible. Fortunately, largely with the assistance and support of son, Teddy, she has again started to appear and perform again, and has just put out the 3rd of an occasional series of new songs. Which, full circle, includes her ex accompanying her on one track.
"Sisters" has a typically acerbic lyric, with bittersweet words of a distressed regret, fitting perfectly with the bleak vocal, and the typical spiky guitar underpinnings. A song, as are most of theirs, to listen to, to pick up all the words, all the instrumental nuances, to feel the pain and the pleasure of that pain, before committing it to fond memory for recall. Heart, head and soul music. Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sisters: The Roches

The Roches: The Troubles


“We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy, Maggie and Terre and Suzzy Roche…” Those were the first words I ever heard from the Roche sisters. Their self-tiled debut was a delightful surprise in 1979. That was a great year for debut albums, also including Dire Straits, Rickie Lee Jones, and Steve Forbert, just to name a few. But the Roches were astounding in part for seeming to be a folk act on a major label. Suzanne Vega and others would soon follow, but, at the time, this was truly remarkable. Of course, that debut album was produced by Robert Fripp, who also added background noises on electric guitar, so I might have guessed that things weren’t quite so simple. Indeed, they plugged in the next year for their follow-up album Nerds. It was during the Nerds tour that I saw what was one of the most disappointing concerts of my life. The Roches came to Princeton with a rhythm section behind them, and played an incredibly loud concert that drowned out the subtle pleasures I so loved about them. Happily, in time they came to realize that the softer sound heard here was their strong suit, and this is how they perform these days.

Play the video above, and you will hear the playfulness and the close harmonies that distinguish the Roches’ sound. You will also hear the unvarnished tone in the vocals that you will either love as being direct and honest, as I do; or the sound will grate on your ears, because one hears it so seldom. This is a group that my wife and I disagree on, with her falling in the latter camp. But I can never hear the best work of the Roche sisters without smiling. Music can do more than that, but sometimes that smile is enough.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sisters: Little Sister

Ry Cooder: Little Sister

I had to go way back through the SMM search/archives to be sure that I hadn't posted this song before (it seemed I must have done so - at least once ?! and after my searches I am still not sure) By now, y'all must know that Ry is a favorite of mine (check out the number of times I have posted his songs); plus, this song ranks among his best. [I know this "SMM search" reminder is a repeat, but it can't hurt]: to search SMM, try

For example:

Now, as to "sisters":

One of my favorites - from Ry Cooder's '79 "Bop Till You Drop" album- was once a '50's/'60s Elvis song. Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (a song-writing pair who were actually related by marriage), the song touches on infidelity and insecurity. It's a case of 2 sisters who've been courted, seemingly neither of them terribly faithful.

Ry's version has so much more verve to it. Granted, the Elvis rendition here is from his later years-in-decline, and this clip shows it. However, it needs to be said that - master that Ry is - a major part of what makes Ry's performance that much better is in large part due to Bobby King's (and friends) backup vocals.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sisters: Soul Sister

Producer and songwriter extraordinaire ( "Working In a Coalmine", "A Certain Girl", "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky", "Fortune Teller") Allen Toussaint made  Life, Love and Faith with The Meters in 1972. Toussaint IS New Orleans music...though his songs are typically better served by other singers.

Not on this one.

In "Soul Sister" he gives a nod to all the head-turning sisters wearing naturals, an expression of pride and dignity and sexiness:

Hey you/ Hey you with the curly bush on your head baby
You know you're lookin good/ Soul sister

By the way if you see a sister wearing a natural, let me be the first to suggest you don't call her Afro "a curly bush". It doesn't sound right unless you have The Meters backing you up.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

BROTHERS ->SISTERS: Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and Sisters: One Night

What better way to transition from “Brothers” to “Sisters,” than to write about a band named Brothers and Sisters, which features an actual brother and sister? I mean, I could have written about the Allman Brothers’ amazing, hit-filled album Brothers and Sisters, you know, the one with “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica,” among others, but someone already did that.  So, instead, let's discuss a quality obscure band.

Brothers and Sisters was formed by Will Courtney, the son of Cynthia Clawson, a Christian music singer, and author Ragan Courtney. Born in Nashville and raised mostly in Texas, Courtney moved to Los Angeles, where he performed and became steeped in the classic Southern California country/rock sound. He returned to Austin and formed Brothers and Sisters with his sister Lilly. The band released two albums, the self-titled debut, which included today’s featured song, and a followup, Fortunately. These guys are right in my wheelhouse—at least one of my wheelhouses—with songs that are reminiscent of bands like the Jayhawks, Byrds, the Band and, not surprisingly, the Beatles and Beach Boys. “One Night” is a loping rocker, with a definite Jayhawks vibe, featuring lead vocals from Will and harmonies from Lilly. There is something about siblings singing together that is special (assuming, unlike me and my siblings, that they can actually sing….) Although the band is no longer recording (it seems that Will Courtney has embarked on a solo career), they are worth checking out.

Coincidentally, on Friday night, I saw a really nice show at the Tarrytown Music Hall—Alejandro Escovedo opening for Shelby Lynne. Escovedo, who is one of my faves (and who deserves his own post at some point) comes from a musical family—his brothers Coke and Pete were in Santana, his brother Phil is a bass player, brother Javier played in punk bands and with Alejandro in the True Believers, and brother Mario was the leader of The Dragons (which also included Javier). And let’s throw in Pete’s daughter Sheila E. and Alejandro’s son Paris, who has his own band. There are more musical Escovedos out there, but let’s stop here. Shelby Lynne’s sister Allison Moorer, who is married to Steve Earle, is somewhat less known than her sister, but as I can attest, having seen her open for the Drive-By Truckers, puts on a hell of a show herself. Here’s a video of the sisters singing “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” from the soundtrack to The Color Purple at a show in Tarrytown in 2010 that I did not attend. But the guy who took the video seemed to enjoy it.

Brothers and Sisters: Crowded House- Sister Madly


I‘m sure that we will be getting to pure posts for our new Sisters theme soon, but I wanted to share this second transitional post before we leave Brothers behind completely. The Brothers Neil and Tim Finn were in Split Enz together before Neil formed Crowded House, and the two have since worked together as the Finn Brothers. Sister Madly comes from Crowded House‘s second album, Temple of Low Men. While Tim was not an official member of the band at that point, he did appear on the album doing background vocals.

Temple is possibly the most overlooked Crowded House album these days. The band was stretching out musically after the huge success of their debut, and the experiments on this album did not seem to resonate with their fans. But I am one of those people who is often drawn to albums like this, with the Cars album Candy-O being another example. Sister Madly has a jazzy feel that I love, and the studio version also has a guitar solo by Richard Thompson. What’s not to like?